Nehrir hot, an infield working out the kinks, and Aaron Blair

The Hillsboro Hops are almost two weeks into the new season, and have seen some early ups and downs. The Hops currently hold a 5-6 record, have lost three straight to the Vancouver Canadians, but find themselves locked in a three-way tie for first in the Northwest League South Division.

Good stuff: Zach Nehrir

Entering the season, there had been eight total four-hit games in the history of the Hillsboro Hops. Well, on 6/23 in the home opener against the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, Zach Nehrir provided the ninth. Then, on 6/24, also against the Volcanoes, Nehrir provided the tenth. That’s right—Nehrir posted consecutive four-hit games for the Hops as they completed a series sweep in the first three games at Ron Tonkin Field.

So who is Zach Nehrir? He was drafted this year by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 16th round out of Houston Baptist University. He is a native of Orange, California, and he may have clinched an everyday assignment in an otherwise crowded outfield. Oh—and it’s pronounced “NAIR-ee-AIR.”

HILLSBORO, OR - JUNE 23: The Hillsboro Hops vs Salem Keizer Volcanoes play on opening night at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro, OR. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Outfielder Zach Nehrir has enjoyed a fast start to his professional career. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Something to work on: the infield defense

Before the season began, the Hops were expected to field one of the more talented infield defenses in all of minor league baseball. Yes, Hillsboro has no shortage of defensive talent across the infield, but the results have not translated. Through 11 games, the Hops have committed 26 errors, most in the league. The next closest team has committed 19 errors.

Many of the errors attributed to Hops infielders are easy corrections. Sergio Alcantara, Fernery Ozuna, Nate Robertson, and Raymel Flores (since reassigned to Rookie-League Missoula) are all tremendous athletes and able to reach baseballs that most people cannot. Instead of making the routine play, they sometimes go the heroic route and the balls fly around the infield.

This is a kink that will be corrected with repetition, discipline, and patience. The Hops’ middle infield tandem of Alcantara and Ozuna is incredibly young, just 18 and 19 years old respectively. The minor leagues exist to develop players, and this is simply a part of that development. Players are known to improve drastically over the course of the season, so we’ll see where we find our guys as the year progresses.

History coming soon: Aaron Blair

Let’s turn the clock back to 2013 briefly. Remember Aaron Blair? The 2013 compensation round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks began his career here with the Hops, and is thisclose to becoming the first former Hop to play in the big leagues. How close? He is now pitching for AAA-Reno in the Pacific Coast League, and since being roughed up in his initial start with the Aces, has dazzled in his last two.

Reno is a notoriously difficult place to pitch in, and the PCL is ruthless on pitchers, as stadiums are at high-altitudes, and the park dimensions are diminutive in comparison to Hank Aaron Stadium and the other palaces of the AA-Southern League.

Lots of top prospects jump AAA straight to the big leagues. However, when pitchers have been assigned to Reno, it is oftentimes just a brief stop before the final promotion to the big leagues. When asked about the current starting pitching situation in the big leagues, Dave Stewart, General Manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, had this to say of Blair on June 13, 2015:

“My thought is I wouldn’t want to call them right now. But to give you an example, Blair is throwing the ball good. If he’s throwing the ball good in another month, then we’d probably have to consider him if we need starting pitching. It really just depends on what they’re doing…” (Steve Gilbert, mlb.com)

(Aaron Blair is still throwing the ball good a month later.) A few more solid starts, and Blair will have effectively kicked down the door to the big leagues.

It’s a good time to be a Hillsboro Hop.

Diamondbacks to pick first in next week’s MLB Draft

The 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft will be held from June 8th – June 10th and our parent club, the Arizona Diamondbacks, owns the first overall pick. That is no doubt exciting to not only the Hillsboro Hops, but also all the other affiliates in the Diamondbacks system, as a major infusion of talent is about to join the ranks.

The Diamondbacks have the first pick in every round of the draft, which means that the team will be able to add several talented players to an already talent-laden system. This draft is a little bit different however. There isn’t an obvious first-overall pick like there have been in years past. Think Stephen Strasburg. Think Bryce Harper. That doesn’t mean this is a weak draft, it just means the scouting department is a little bit busier compiling reconnaissance work. Indeed there is talent in every draft, and in this one, it will be about finding the right player that fits need and system.

Hillsboro Hops vs Spokane Indians

Braden Shipley (2013) started his career in Hillsboro after being selected in the first round of the MLB Draft. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

I know what you’re thinking: yes, it would be possible for the first overall pick to be assigned to Hillsboro to start his professional career. Since 1996, the Diamondbacks have had 29 first-round selections, and 9 have seen time in the Northwest League, and all since 2003. The D-backs are much more likely to assign a player drafted out of college rather than high school to a Short-Season team like Hillsboro. When the team drafts high-schoolers, the usual path is first to the Arizona Summer League (AZL) to iron out some kinks, and then often times, straight to Kane County. Other times, players may be assigned first to the AZL and jump to Rookie-League Missoula, before skipping Hillsboro straight to Kane County, as has been the case with 2014 first-rounder Touki Toussaint.

When the D-backs draft a player out of college, often times he is more polished than a high school product, and able to start at a more advanced level. This was the route for 2013 first-rounder Braden Shipley, who made his professional debut with the Hops and now pitches for the Double-A Mobile BayBears of the Southern League. So, if we’re pulling for the first-overall pick to be assigned to Hillsboro (and we are) let’s all cross our fingers and hope the D-backs draft a player out of college. The Diamondbacks are playing their cards close to the vest, but recent reports suggest the team may be leaning towards taking a college player with the first overall selection. A name circulating now is Vanderbilt product Dansby Swanson, a shortstop for the Commodores of the Southeastern Conference. It would not be surprising for the Diamondbacks to select a Commodore, as 2014 selections Touki Toussaint, Cody Reed, and Isan Diaz were all bound for Vanderbilt out of high school before electing to sign professional contracts. The Diamondbacks also selected Jared Miller out of Vanderbilt in the 11th round, who was then assigned to Hillsboro to begin his career.

Stryker Trahan (2014) was selected by the D-backs in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Stryker Trahan (2014) was selected by the D-backs in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Swanson hit .350 this season for the Commodores and is versatile on the infield, logging time at second base and shortstop, leading scouts to believe he can play either position at the major league level. He is known to be an intense competitor and a dedicated teammate. Vanderbilt has become something of a baseball factory, producing players like David Price and Sonny Gray, and Swanson seems to be the next in a long line of talented Commodores.

Swanson hasn’t been the only college player the D-backs have been linked to. Other names that have been tossed around include University of Illinois left-hander Tyler Jay, Vanderbilt teammate Carson Fulmer, University of California-Santa Barbara pitcher Dillon Tate, and several others. Like we mentioned, it’s a deep draft with no definitive number one overall pick. Any number of players can make a legitimate case to be taken first overall.

The Diamondbacks have also considered several high school players. Prep catcher Tyler Stephenson has been discussed, and some think prep shortstop Brendan Rodgers is the cream of this year’s crop. Again, if the D-backs decide to go with a high-school player, and they may, we would be less likely to see him in Hillsboro.

There is a lot of uncertainty as this year’s draft rapidly approaches, but one thing for certain is that the Diamondbacks will add a lot of talent to the system. We’ll cross our fingers that we see the first overall pick come through here, but we can rest assured that we will field another talented team in 2015 regardless.

Go Diamondbacks and go Hops!

20 days until Opening Day.

Hops hit home run with first-ever Fan Fest

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Is that a future Hop I see? (Hillsboro Hops)

Saturday, May 16th marked a momentous day in Hops history. The team hosted its first-ever Hillsboro Hops Fan Fest at Ron Tonkin Field, the finest baseball facility in the land. Hops fans came from far and wide to celebrate the rapidly approaching baseball season, and to enjoy a complimentary hot dog and Coke on the Hops.

Fan Fest went from 10 AM – 2 PM and featured free parking and admission. Tons of fun attractions littered the playing field and the concourse, including an inflatable Kids’ Zone out in centerfield, a designated space to play catch in left field, and a face-painter for the kids stationed on the 3rd-base concourse. The event coincided with the release of single-game tickets to the general public, and the response from Hops fans all over Washington County and beyond was overwhelming.

The event also featured an area for speed pitch in the visitors’ bullpen, where the unofficial fastest pitch recorded was a blazing 74 miles per hour, an opportunity for kids to run the bases, a live radio remote broadcast on Rip City Radio 620 AM with Rich Burk, the Voice of the Hops, tours of the ballpark, and a special sale at the team’s merchandise store.

The initial projection for expected attendees was right around 500 people, and by 11:30 AM, that number had already been exceeded. Hops Nation came out in full force, pushing the unofficial attendance to 2,000 people.

“We really weren’t too sure what to expect when we started drawing up the concept for the event. We knew we’d be able to get fans to the ballpark, but for the turnout to quadruple our expectations is more than anyone could have asked for,” said Hops Executive Vice President and General Manager K.L. Wombacher. “It’s just unbelievable to have the fan support we do.”

With the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft right around the corner, and the start of the season just beyond, we’ll start to really gain an understanding of who our 2015 Hops will be. With Fan Fest in the rear-view mirror, we’re full-speed ahead here at the ballpark, and ready to build on our championship campaign.

26 days until the Hops play at Ron Tonkin Field.

38 parties a year

With the season opener less than a month away, and the home opener just a few days beyond that, baseball is once again in the air here in Hillsboro. It’s the best three months of the year, as we’re lucky enough to host 38 parties for the wonderful fans in our community who consider Ron Tonkin Field their summer home.

ZombieNight1

Don’t feed the zombies. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

And who doesn’t like theme parties?

Remember Zombie Night last year? It was a smash hit, as fans came dressed as the living dead, and face painters were on site to accommodate the forgetful. Well, on July 2, the undead will again descend upon Ron Tonkin Field in the sequel to the first installment. There will be a blood drive hosted on the front plaza of the stadium from 2-7 PM and we will again have face painters on the concourse. And, never fear, there will be a heavy dose of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” all throughout the night.

But that’s not the only fun night for kids and parents. On July 11 and 12, we’ll again be hosting Youth Sports Weekend. Little league teams can register for the event and will have the opportunity to walk around the field before the games and get autographs from Hops players. Teams are encouraged to sign up for the event by July 8. Contact Vanessa Parker at (503) 640-0887 if you’d like more information about getting a team in on the festivities.

IMG_1283

Sign your team up now for Youth Sports Weekend! (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

If you’re a baseball history buff, you’ll love what we’ve got planned for August 20. We’re hosting Portland Mavericks Night, an homage to the former independent league baseball team that played in the Northwest League from 1973-1977. The team is the focus of the Netflix original documentary, “The Battered Bastards of Baseball.” We’ve got a few fun things up our sleeve for the night. Stay tuned for details.

The very next day, August 21, ESPN anchor and former Oregon resident Neil Everett will be the guest of honor. The first 1500 fans in attendance will receive custom-made Neil Everett bobbleheads, Neil will throw the first pitch, and in honor of Everett’s affinity for all things Hawaiian, we’ve scheduled Hawaiian night to coincide with his appearance. The Hops will also be passing out leis at the ballgame.

Lots of teams say it, but there truly is something for everybody at Ron Tonkin Field this year. It’s a lovely place to spend a summer, and a wonderful venue for some family time.

We can’t wait to see all of Hops Nation shortly and to share our ballpark, the best in all of Minor League Baseball, with all of you next month.

29 days until the Hops’ title defense begins. 34 days until the champs come home.

House at home in Visalia

J.R. House managed the 2014 Hillsboro Hops to a 52-28 record, the highest mark in all of Short-Season baseball, en route to a Northwest League Championship. Unsurprisingly, a performance like that earned him a call up the ranks to manage the Visalia Rawhide of the Advanced-A California League.

Now, how do you back up the best record in all of Short-Season baseball and a league championship? Well, House’s ‘Hide have shot out of the gate, posting a 20-7 record in their first 27 games, racing to a 6-game lead in the division, all the while outscoring opponents by a whopping 152-75 margin. I’m no expert, but that seems good.

Hillsboro Hops vs Salem-Kaiser Volcanoes

House’s ‘Hide can’t stop winning. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

OK, but how much difference does a manager really make? Look no further than House’s past stops. In 2012, he made his coaching debut as the hitting coach in the Rookie Pioneer League with the Missoula Osprey. Won a title. The next year, he jumped to Hillsboro to work with hitters here. It’s the only year he’s coached that he didn’t win it all. We all remember what happened in 2014 with him at the helm here. Now in 2015, his Rawhide certainly appear to be the early Cal League title favorite. Wins and House have become a trend, not an exception.

House isn’t the only 2014 Hop contributing to Visalia’s simmering start. He’s joined there by thumpers Kevin Cron and Stewart Ijames, who have combined to whack 12 home runs thus far. Ijames was a late call-up to the 2014 Hops, but was an immediate contributor to the postseason run, hitting two home runs and driving in five runs in the Hops’ four playoff victories. Cron set a then-Hops hitting-streak record with a 12-game run during the 2014 season, only to be surpassed by infielder Steve Nyisztor, who posted a 15-game streak. Their bats are a big reason why House and the ‘Hide keep posting victories.

The minor leagues are a place of constant evaluation–and not just for the players on the field. Minor league managers, hitting coaches, and pitching coaches are prospects just as much as the players they shape. Current Arizona Diamondbacks skipper Chip Hale was himself a minor league manager for three seasons with the Tucson Sidewinders, where he managed the former Diamondback Triple-A affiliate to the 2006 Pacific Coast League title.

Most major league managers have at least some experience coaching in the minor leagues, and if House’s clubs continue to overwhelm opponents, it won’t be long until he finds himself on the radar for some club in their managerial search. Add to that the fact that House was a Major League catcher and it can only help. This year alone in the big leagues, 16 of the 30 managers were catchers in their playing careers.

#RollHide

47 days until Shelley Duncan fills House’s big shoes in Hillsboro.

Hop relievers dominant at the next level

More often than not in 2014, when the Hops were leading the game after six innings, it was a done deal. Tally another in the win column, because Luis “Toro” Ramirez, Mason McCullough, Cody Geyer, and Zac Curtis were taking us home.

How good were they? The measure of a bullpen is directly correlative to the team’s performance in close games. In the regular season last year, the Hops posted an 18-10 record in 1-run games, and a 9-2 record in 2-run games. Frankly, it’s difficult to pitch when the game is on the line, and Hops relievers did it with aplomb.

Hillsboro Hops vs Spokane Indians

Luis Ramirez is doing what he did in Hillsboro with Kane County. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Now, the reason I bring it up: Ramirez, McCullough, Geyer, and Curtis all moved up a level to the Long-A Midwest League to play for the Kane County Cougars. The step-up in competition has to mean a little regression, right? Nope.

Through April 29, the lines for the back-end of the 2014 Hops bullpen with the Kane County Cougars:

Luis Ramirez: 8 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 6 BB, 10 K, 2.25 ERA. Opponents hitting .115 against him.

Cody Geyer: 9.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 SO, 0.93 ERA. Opponents hitting .103.

Zac Curtis: 8 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 11 K, 1.13 ERA. Opponents hitting .071.

Mason McCullough: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 9 K, 0.00 ERA. Opponents hitting .087.

Imagine being a team in the Midwest League, facing a 4-2 deficit against the Cougars in the 7th inning. Kane County skipper Mark Grudzielanek can just look into the bullpen for any former Hop, and feel confident that the game will go his way.

What does a good bullpen do for a team? It effectively shortens the game. Consider the Kansas City Royals, the reigning American League Champions. The back end of their bullpen last year consisted of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland, an absolute murderer’s row of relievers. Royals’ starters just had to be decent through 6 innings, then pass it to that troika and wait for the “W” to be posted.

An additional benefit: If the team is trailing, the opposing team’s lead would not be extended as long as those relievers are toeing the rubber.

This is the advantage the Hops’ bullpen of 2014 provided for the eventual Northwest League Champions, and the advantage they’re bringing to the 2015 Kane County Cougars.

Keep it up, boys!

52 days until Opening Day.

Hopdate! Checking in on the alumni…

Most long-season minor-league clubs have about 15 games in the books thus far. As we highlighted earlier here, a bale of Hops have risen through the ranks, and have started making hay—er—beer?

Wordplay aside, promoted Hops have not been shy at the higher levels, and one, 2014 alum Todd Glaesmann, has even earned an early-season promotion.

Todd opened the season at Class-A Advanced Visalia, where he was playing for another former Hop, 2014 manager J.R. House. All Todd did there to earn that promotion was hit .419 with four home runs in seven games. Oh, almost forgot, he also hit for the cycle in one of those games, prompting this tweet from Visalia’s radio voice, Donny Baarns:

Mobile will be a test for Glaesmann, who spent an extended amount of time there last year. He struggled with the bat in the Southern League, but showed considerable improvement at the plate over the course of the off-season and in the early goings in Visalia. He’s only had nine at-bats in Mobile thus far, but he’s recorded three hits, so the early returns are positive.

Glaesmann wasn’t the only 2014 Hop causing a stir in Visalia. Masher Stewart Ijames has made himself right at home in the California League, currently leading the circuit in home runs with five through twelve games. Combine that with a slash line of .326/.383/.724/1.127 and you may venture to say that Stewart’s comfortable at the plate.

Visalia played the Stockton Ports on April 23, an Oakland Athletics affiliate, where A’s ace Jarrod Parker was making a rehab start against the Rawhide. Didn’t make a difference for Stewart:

And guess who got the win over Parker in that start? Hops 2013-14 alum Ryan Doran, who just continues to produce everywhere he goes:

Hops’ 2014 manager J.R. House holds the reins for the Rawhide and has been turning his boys loose. The Hide have raced out to a 12-3 record, already holding a four-game lead in their division just fifteen games into the season. They’ve outscored their opponents by a staggering 56 runs, 98-42. Keep it up Rawhide, and we’ll keep sending you Hops.

A step below in Visalia at Kane County, ’14 alum Grant Heyman is hitting .286 in his first 14 games as he adjusts to Midwest League pitching. Hops’ 2014 closer Zac Curtis continues to overwhelm batters, working to a 1.69 ERA over his first 5.1 innings while recording 8 strikeouts. Last year’s Northwest League All-Star Game starter Nick Baker holds a 1.80 ERA in his first 10 innings with the Cougars, and 2014 NWL All-Star Cody Geyer is posting a 1.04 ERA through 8.2 innings.

Quick-Hits: the four former Hops we featured in the race to the big leagues (Jimmie Sherfy, Aaron Blair, Braden Shipley, and Will Locante) are all in Double-A Mobile. Shipley has enjoyed the strongest start for the BayBears of the Southern League, posting a 1.08 ERA through his first three starts, a span of 16.2 innings. He continues to develop and improve as he gains more experience on the mound. Sherfy has been strong, with an ERA of 3.00 through his first six innings.

You can keep up with Hops alumni at http://www.milb.com. 59 days until Opening Day.

Ron Tonkin Field: a stronghold in sustainability

Editor’s Note: This story also appears online here.

As a minor-league baseball team on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, sustainability and environmentally-friendly practices are second nature. The lifestyle in the Pacific Northwest is one of recycling, reusing and reducing, and the Hillsboro Hops do everything they can to contribute to the sustainability of our ballpark, surrounding communities, and the state of Oregon.

Consider Ron Tonkin Field: the home of the Hops. The stadium was constructed in 2013 and is one of the most eco-friendly ballparks in the country. As the facility was being built, over 57 tons of general construction debris was able to be salvaged and recycled. An additional 77 tons of concrete and masonry was taken to a local facility to be crushed for structural fill. The foundation of the ballpark itself is based in sustainability.

Hillsboro Hops vs Salem-Kaiser Volcanoes

The Tonk, in all her glory. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Another key component of the Hops’ green initiative is the ballpark’s artificial turf field. The amount of water it takes to keep natural grass healthy, not just during the season, but also during the off-season is enormous, and is avoided altogether with our artificial turf. All bathrooms, showers, and kitchens at the facility also use low-flow water conservation systems, to significantly reduce the amount of water used.

The building features recycling bins scattered all around the concourse, as well as receptacles for compost and landfill. Anyone who has been to a baseball game is aware of the amount of cans and plastic bottles that are used at the event, and it is important to provide an efficient means of disposal for those materials. Ron Tonkin Field also encourages fans to bring in re-usable water bottles that can be filled up at any of the water fountains lining the concourses.

Thousands of people fill the stands at Ron Tonkin Field every time the Hops play a home game, which means that transportation was something that needed to be addressed. We’re faced with a challenge of being outside the immediate proximity of a public transportation system. To resolve the issue, we offer a complimentary, eco-friendly Hops shuttle to and from Ron Tonkin Field from the closest Tri-Met train stop. Fans and game-day employees use both the train and shuttle and help take cars off the road.

The communities of the Pacific Northwest are passionate about the environment, and it’s important for the local professional baseball team to reflect its community whenever possible. We wanted to construct a facility that would provide fun for our fans and citizens while also remaining in line with the core values of the local community. We’re proud of Ron Tonkin Field and the sustainability of our ballpark.

Braden Shipley (Hops, 2013) would like your attention

In the fourth and final installment of our investigation into the first Hop to crack the Arizona Diamondbacks’ roster, I’ll take a look at 2013 1st-rounder Braden Shipley. Previously profiled in the race to the big leagues: Aaron Blair, Will Locante, and Jimmie Sherfy.

Shipley is an interesting story. Born and raised about five hours south of Hillsboro in Medford, Oregon, he attended the University of Nevada, quickly becoming the favorite player of Jason Gavigan, our director of ticket operations and Nevada grad.

Shipley didn’t start pitching until his junior year of high school, and when he arrived on his college campus in Reno, he actually played shortstop due to the team’s need at the position. He was no lame duck at short, making second-team all-conference in the Western Athletic Conference as a freshman.

Hillsboro Hops vs Spokane Indians

(Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

In his sophomore and junior years, Shipley focused solely on pitching, and the athleticism he had previously displayed at shortstop played a large role in his development into Arizona’s second-ranked prospect, behind only the newly promoted Archie Bradley. Assuming Bradley remains in the big leagues, Shipley is now Arizona’s top prospect still in the minor leagues.

The Oregon native was taken 15th overall in 2013, and started his professional career in his home state with the Hillsboro Hops. Hillsboro was a nice, local, jumping-off point for Shipley, where he recorded just 19 innings. At lower levels of the minor leagues, evaluators will look more at peripheral statistics like strikeout-to-walk ratio rather than simple, cut-and-dry earned-run-average. Look beyond Shipley’s 7.58 ERA, and instead see that he struck out 24 and walked only 6 batters, and you’ll see that he had the repertoire to get hitters out. A 4:1 K:BB ratio is nothing to sneeze at, and it garnered him a call-up to Long-A South Bend.

In 2013 at South Bend, his peripherals matched up with his ERA. In 20.2 innings in the Midwest League, he worked to a 2.61 ERA and hitters managed to hit just .194 off of him. Needless to say, the organization was excited.

He opened 2014 at South Bend to more success. He threw another 42.3 innings and walked only 11, putting to rest concerns about command. He was promoted to Visalia of the hitter-friendly California League, and managed a 4.03 ERA in 60.1 innings, pitching almost exclusively in hitter-friendly ballparks.

He finished out 2014 in AA Mobile of the Southern League, working to a 3.60 ERA in 20 innings. His performance earned him a spot in Arizona’s big league camp to start the year, where he proved he can make pitches to big-league hitters. He threw 4 innings in big-league spring training, and allowed just one earned run while striking out two.

His growth has earned him praise from national baseball analysts. Just last week, former Diamondback and current ESPN broadcaster and analyst Curt Schilling posted this on his twitter account.

Schilling’s words reference Shipley’s youth when it comes to pitching. For a guy who started pitching full-time just four years ago, he is still new to the craft. As he gains more and more experience in sequencing, command, and repertoire, his natural athleticism will separate him from the batters he is facing. Schilling recognizes this athleticism, the raw stuff Shipley possesses, and the inexperience that will fade quickly with more time on the mound.

Shipley boasts a strong fastball that sits in the mid-90’s that he can pump up into the high 90’s and a curveball that continues to improve the more he throws it, but the breadwinner for him is his change-up. Heralded as the best change-up in the Diamondbacks’ minor-league system, Shipley uses it to get swings-and-misses from hitters and tally up strikeouts.

Shipley was assigned to AA Mobile to start 2015, where he earned an opening-day start and pitched admirably, allowing just one earned run in 6.2 innings while striking out four. It would not be a shock for Shipley to get a call to the big-leagues this year, especially if the Diamondbacks’ rotation struggles, or if injuries beset any members. He still needs some time, and as Schilling alluded to, experience on the mound to iron out command and work on his curveball. Shipley could get a cup of coffee in the big leagues this year when rosters expand to 40 players in September, and if all goes well for him, he should be competing for a spot in the Diamondbacks’ 2016 Opening Day rotation.

So what do you think Hops fans? Who’s going to be the first Hop to play at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona?

68 days until Opening Day.

Twenty-eight Hops (and two managers!) sprouting up

The 2015 Major League Baseball season is finally underway, which means long-season minor-league rosters have been finalized. All told, 28 former Hops players (and two managers!) find themselves on full-season minor league rosters at the start of the 2015 season.

The breakdown:                                              Mobile_BayBears

Mobile BayBears (AA Southern League)

  • Aaron Blair (RHP, Hops, 2013)
  • Will Locante (LHP, Hops, 2013)
  • Jimmie Sherfy (RHP, Hops, 2013)
  • Braden Shipley (RHP, Hops, 2013)
  • Ryan Gebhardt (INF, Hops, 2013)

Visalia Rawhide (Class-A Advanced California League)

  • Tyler Baker (C, Hops, 2014)visalia-rawhide-primary-logo-2-primary
  • J.R. Bradley (RHP, Hops, 2013)
  • Kevin Cron (INF, Hops, 2014)
  • Ryan Doran (RHP, Hops 2013-14)
  • Daniel Gibson (LHP, Hops 2013)
  • Todd Glaesmann (OF, Hops, 2014)
  • Stewart Ijames (OF, Hops, 2014)
  • Jose Jose (LHP, Hops, 2013)
  • Daniel Palka (INF, Hops, 2013)
  • George Roberts (INF, Hops, 2013-14)
  • Johnny Shuttlesworth (RHP, Hops, 2013)
  • Blayne Weller (RHP, Hops, 2013)

Visalia will also be managed by 2014 Hillsboro Hops manager, J.R. House. Hops’ 2014 trainer Chad Moeller will join House in Visalia.

Kane County Cougars (Class-A Midwest League)

  • Nick Baker (RHP, Hops, 2014)kane county
  • Zac Curtis (LHP, Hops, 2014)
  • Cody Geyer (RHP, Hops, 2014)
  • Brent Jones (RHP, Hops, 2014)
  • Brad Keller (RHP, Hops, 2014)
  • Mason McCullough (RHP, Hops, 2014)
  • Jared Miller (LHP, Hops, 2014)
  • Luis Ramirez (RHP, Hops, 2014)
  • Markus Solbach (RHP, Hops, 2014)
  • Stryker Trahan (C, Hops, 2014)
  • Grant Heyman (OF, Hops, 2014)

Audo Vicente, 2013 Hillsboro Hops manager, will open the season as a roving minor-league instructor at Kane County. Sean Light, the 2014 Hops strength and conditioning coach, will also join Kane County.

Here in Hillsboro, we’re still awaiting our opening day roster, but we can feel confident we’ll have plenty of talent coming our way, given that 28 of our former guys have been promoted. Mobile, Visalia, and Kane County all get their seasons started on Thursday, April 9. You can follow all of our former players on www.milb.com.

There is a very, very good chance the first Hop will crack the Diamondbacks in 2015, and if you’re wondering whom, follow Mobile closely. If there is attrition in the major league rotation, or injuries in the bullpen, a former Hop and current BayBear may be called upon.

76 days until Opening Day.

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